It’s strange that the 90s still feel “new” to me. The early 2000s feel passé and ancient. Things about the 90s still stick with me and despite the “convenience” of new technology I miss some of the aspects of “inconvenience” of my teenage years. Columbia Record Clubs, VHS and DVD rentals, Magazine research…it’s all stuff that, though it may still exist, isn’t a main part of the culture anymore… My first CDs came from Columbia record Club! And I could only play them in my Sega CD….through a mono-TV.
Thinking of this reminded me of buying my first stereo. It was 1997. I’d had them given as gifts before, Christmas and Birthday presents. The one that I was replacing was indeed a birthday present from my 15th Birthday. It was a TWO disc changer. And it seemed so cool. It had two trays on the top and they would swap places when the discs were changed (I knew so little I once tried to put my Full Throttle PC-CDROM into it to play the great Gone Jackals soundtrack… It didn’t work… But I DID get that soundtrack…from Columbia House!). The stereo started to skip and the changing mechanism didn’t work. I’d saved up some money and went to get myself a brand new stereo. We started out early, about 10 AM. I was kind of excited.
In the 90s, in my area, there were only a few places to go. Circuit City, H.H. Gregg, and Media Play. I usually went to Circuit City, but I remember H.H. Gregg had a sale on them so my mom drove me there. I picked out an AMAZING 5 disc changer. Brought it home, hooked it up, ran my TV and video games systems through it. Connected my parents’ old MASSIVE JBL speakers…and it didn’t work. I tried repeatedly and it didn’t work. So we took it back. H.H. Gregg said they would only offer to fix it, we explained it was a BRAND NEW item and they reluctantly let us exchange it. Unfortunately they didn’t have the one I bought so I downgraded to a three-disc changer, OK with the savings in money, and brought it home. I went through the rigmarole of hooking it back up and…guess what… It didn’t work. Acted like there was no CD in the tray. So we boxed it up and brought it back. The store manger came out and didn’t believe us that it didn’t work. I remember he went in the back and came out with a CD on his finger. He put it in, pressed play, and….it didn’t work. He said “It’s like it’s not reading the CD at all…” My mom, if I recall, responded “No shit.” We got my money back and went to Circuit City.
I felt more comfortable here. We’d purchased PCs from here before with 2 year warranties. Typically when they died after 18 months or so we’d activate the warranty and they’d replace the PC with one that cost the same NOW as the one we got THEN. It means essentially a free-upgrade system if the PC went bad. They quit doing that after a few years.
I found a nice Philips 5 disc changer and took it home. I quit hooking up all my stuff to it and took to just opening the box, plugging it into to the nearest outlet and trying it. I plugged it in. The CD played! I changed discs…and…the mechanism sounded like a pepper mill and it just sat there. We tried it again and…nope. No disc-changing. By this time it was after 3PM. It had been all day. We boxed it up, took it back, and I remember distinctly the woman and man salespeople saying, “Oh I’m sorry… I can’t believe it… Luckily this is Circuit City!” They gave us another one and we took it and went home.
It didn’t even get all the way out of the box. I pulled it out and noticed the back of it looked like it had been kicked in. We just looked despairingly at it and shrugged. I remember saying, “Screw it if it works I don’t care.” It didn’t. It didn’t even power on.
So we took it back…it was after 5PM. Walking back to the stereo section the two salespeople were standing there chatting and I remember the woman turned and saw us, looking stunned she said, “Oh you’re kidding…” I explained it looked like it someone had used it for batting practice and she said, “That’s our shipping…it’s just a box to them.”
Of course they didn’t have the one I picked out. I went to the deep end. I found an amazing-looking Sony 50-disc CD changer. It was 200 more than I planned to spend but I had it. After much consideration I bought it… Took it home…took it out of the box….and…glory be. It worked! It sounded amazing. in fact it STILL works. It STILL sounds amazing. It as surround sound ports built in. If I want it will play all 50 discs loaded one after another. It evens started my love affair with Sony products…in all the years I’ve bought them I’ve never had a bad one…
Yes portable music, iTunes, Bose, have all changed the way we play music, but that experience plus the quality and awesomeness of this system still sum it up for me. Nothing sounds better than a CD…and it sounds all the sweeter knowing the system I found at the end of that capitalist-consumer quest is still alive and kicking. A bit like the spirit of the 90s to me.